5 Key Lessons For Engaging Employees With Sustainability In The Workplace

5 Key Lessons For Engaging Employees With Sustainability In The Workplace

Your new “Green Office” initiatives are finally ready to roll. An impressive recycling system is in place, the ACs are set to 25°C and you proudly announce a team beach clean for the following weekend. But what if your employees aren’t as supportive of your new initiatives as you assumed they would be?

Much has been made of recent statistics declaring the importance of environmental sustainability and social purpose in attracting talent, particularly among the Millennial and Gen Z demographic. But while eco-awareness may be cited in opinion surveys, the practical realities of office life are more nuanced. Stress, convenience and habit can overwhelm purpose and principles in our day-to-day priorities. All too often, the recycling bins are contaminated with dirty or incorrect waste, the ACs are manually adjusted to cool emotionally-heated meetings, and no-one signs up to the weekend beach clean because, after all, who wants to spend their weekends with their work colleagues as well as week days?

If your team isn’t engaged with your green policies, the policies become useless, no matter how well-intentioned they are. So how can you effectively integrate sustainability into your company culture and encourage employees to fully support and participate?

Since opening Banyan Workspace a couple of years ago, we have always highlighted our core values of sustainability and giving back and have inevitably attracted like-minded people to work within our walls, both within our own team and with the corporate members who have made our coworking space their home. But even in a passionate and eco-conscious community such as ours, it has not always been plain sailing. We have made mistakes, we have had to rethink the way we do things, and we have learned what motivates people to embrace green actions and what doesn’t.

Below, we share some of the key lessons we have learned over the past two years, through trial and error, that can help you get your team on board with your green office ambitions.

1. Make it Fundamental

There is often an assumption in the workforce that green policies are an “add-on” to what a company does. It is not seen as part of the job, but rather something that they are being asked to do on top of their job. So it is crucial that the trifecta of Profit, People and Planet is understood and accepted as what it is; a core part of the success of your business. Studies consistently show that companies who work towards this “Triple Bottom Line” outperform their industry peers both in the medium and long term.

Transitioning from viewing a sustainable business model as something special to “business as usual” might seem counterintuitive if you are trying to promote your business in comparison to others. But making sustainability part and parcel of your company’s raison d’être is a key factor in building it into the individual employee’s decision-making process.

Ultimately, the crucial step here is education, ensuring that no-one on the team is unaware of either the impact of the current environmental crisis or the company’s stance towards it. Green messaging should be included in corporate communications, brand directives, workspace policies, even your staff contracts. At Banyan Workspace, we host the Climate Fresk, an eye-opening interactive and motivational environmental-awareness training programme that even our most eco-conscious team members find useful and challenging. We would recommend you consider this type of training as part of a mandatory induction process for all employees.

2. Make it Authentic

For your team to fully engage with your green initiatives, they need to believe that they stem from a genuine desire to do good, not from the desire to appear good in the public eye. There is a very real and understandable concern about greenwashing, the deceptive practice of promoting false or misleading information about how environmentally friendly a company’s products or services are. It is a sad fact that the more cynical amongst us might view your green policies as box-ticking for the marketing department.

To develop an authentic green culture, meaningful change has to start at the top, from the CEO down. Senior executives who are constantly delegating green projects and are solely focused on profits set a poor example to their team. Make sure that your top management are personally committed to sustainable initiatives, providing junior staff with clear expectations and aspirational goals.

3. Make it Personal

If your commitment to sustainability is fundamental and genuinely authentic, then it follows that your employees should be encouraged to take a direct role in developing and implementing green initiatives. By all means, provide clear direction and general requirements. But by involving your employees at a fundamental level, they have a greater sense of responsibility towards the policies and are more invested in seeing them succeed. They’re also able to incorporate causes that they feel personally connected to, further increasing participation and, ultimately, success.

Consider creating a team of sustainability champions, drawn from different departments, who regularly meet to discuss new initiatives and have a direct reporting line to top management. Rather than being dictated to, this engenders a feeling of comradery and collaboration, incentivising the whole team to be more willing to participate in green actions, chart their progress and celebrate small wins.

4. Make it Measurable

It makes a huge difference when your team is able to see tangible evidence of improvements to their work environment. A clear and effective recycling station, the introduction of green plants, the provision of recycled paper as standard for printers; these are just some of the ways that green policies at work can be seen and interacted with.

Even more motivating is being able to put facts and figures to the positive impact that your green actions are having. Think of ways to calculate metrics such as measurement of energy expenditure or the number of single-use plastic items that have been avoided. Understanding that you are part of a community or movement is a big psychological motivator. Metrics allow people to see how their small actions add up over time, alerting them to how their behavioural changes are impacting the environment in a positive way. This is a highly effective way of combating the feeling that environmental issues are so big as to be overwhelming.

Finally, metrics can be used to create fun challenges and competitions between employees. They can allow you to reward and celebrate successes, both within your team and more widely on social media and in marketing.

5. Make it Collaborative

In order to retain employee engagement with sustainability long term and embed it into your company culture, you need to ensure you collaborate with others in your local sustainable community. The ability to share your ideas, your successes and failures, with others in your industry doesn’t mean that you are giving away your secrets – it makes you an industry leader.

Hold regular feedback sessions within your departments to find out what is working and what isn’t, what is engaging people and what they are finding hard. Promote activism and encourage employees to approach you with ideas they have to initiatives they are interested in. Publish a yearly sustainability report where you assess your achievements and use them to create your ESG goals for the following year. Keep up to date with developments in the sustainability world and share information and advice.

If you would like to know more about the sustainable measures implemented at Banyan Workspace, our sustainability workshops and our green procurement assistance programme, please email info@greenofficeproject.com

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